Did you know that about 15% of Canadians will report a mild case of seasonal affective disorder (or seasonal depression) in their lifetime? Eight years ago, I realized that the baby blues I had experienced with Boy #1 and Boy #2 weren’t passing the same way with Boy #3. So I talked to my doctor and started on a low dose anti-depressant.
After a couple of years, we got things balanced again and I no longer needed the medication. I had spent a few years white knuckling my way through February before the diagnosis. Then after going off the medication, I started looking for things that would help me manage it naturally. The anti-depressants gave me horrendous heart burn so if I could stay off them, all the better.
First thing I realized was that when I started to go low, I stopped reading. It wasn’t that I didn’t have options, but my interest in it diminished and even when I did sit down, the story rarely held my attention. For someone who normally devours books, this was an easy indicator to flag.
Since then I have figured out a few more tricks that seem to keep me on the level. And this past week I have had to pull out every single one of them and force myself to do each one. My trigger for seeking further help is if I can’t force myself to do most of the things on this list, I need outside assistance.
Here are the five things that help me cope with seasonal depression and winter in general.
Much as I hate to admit this, exercise helps. A lot. I got into the habit of exercising daily during Covid knowing that my mental health would suffer due to the upheaval in routine and the lack of social interaction. I made a deal with myself, not every day had to be a full out, sweaty, push-to-my-limits workout, but I had to do something. Some days it was a walk, other days I got on the stationary bike and peddled out the anxiety.
It helped. And three years later, it still helps. Some days I hate that.
Reading is my easiest gauge for my mental health, as I mentioned above. If I don’t have the attention span to sit down and focus on a book, my mental health is suffering. It’s one of my most favorite things but inevitably, come February, I can’t find a book that holds my attention.
When I can’t focus on a book, I move into the kitchen and bake. The key factor here is that it keeps me busy. I need to stay busy. If I don’t stay busy, I have to spend more time and energy pulling myself back up to level. So I bake. Usually cookies, sometimes cupcakes, sometimes banana bread. Or pumpkin bread. Or applesauce bread. You get the idea. Some years, I finish out February with a very full freezer. No one in my house complains.
If you have to stay busy, there is very little that keeps you busier than kids’ sports. Take this February for example, in 28 days, we had 32 ice times and that’s just hockey. There is also ski club, and friends’ birthdays and so on. Doesn’t leave time for much wallowing which is perfect for me for coping with the worst of winter. Any other month, a little bit of wallowing is manageable. In February, any amount of wallowing results in a steep slide down into the mental pit.
Now, here is the key. I know that I won’t have the mental bandwidth to think of things to do in the midst of my low days. And I know that I need to stay busy. On the off chance I can’t settle on any of the above to move me through the month, I fall back on this list:
- Create something
- Read something
- Clean something
- Write something
- Fix something
- Move something
You’ll notice there is some duplication in that list compared to what I’ve already outlined. But this list encourages creativity while still giving me a jumping off point because of the “something”. It helps me identify something, anything that fits one of those parameters. In doing just one thing, I often am able to build momentum to do something else.
Please know that this is how I get through the winter and my own seasonal depression. It is not meant to replace medical advice and if you are struggling with mental health, reach out to someone. Anyone. Please.
See you at the rink
Leave a Reply